On the Table: Jumpstarting the Process

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After last week’s ridiculously fun introduction to the On the Table feature, I’m a little worried that the real deal will never measure up. I have confidence in our illustrious contributors though and am sure it’ll be a piece of–wait for it–cake. Golf clap please. Thank you, thank you.

What do you do to jumpstart the creative process when the juices aren’t flowing?

ron-block-thumb.gif Ron Block – “Awhile back I was struggling to write a gospel song for the last Alison Krauss and Union Station recording. Throughout the months-long process of recording I continued to try to write a song, to no avail; I wrote one that was a good song but not right for Alison (I put it on my last solo record). Other than that it was a total creative blockage.I finally went downstairs one day, not long before the last session in which we were to record my as yet unwritten song and another one, I sat there trying to write and finally said out loud, “Lord, if You want a gospel song on the record that inspires believers to rely on You more deeply and draws unbelievers to seek You out, that’s Your problem. I quit!” I put down the guitar and read the Bible for awhile, prayed, and pushed songwriting out of my mind.

A half hour later I picked up my guitar, started humming a melody, got it down on tape, and then wrote the words to A Living Prayer, which is the last song on Lonely Runs Both Ways. The entire song came out in one shot, probably the easiest time I’ve had writing any song (30-40 minutes). It’s a childlike prayer-ish song, simple in construction, not a cathedral of a song, yet I get more email about it than any song I’ve written.

Too much effort, strain, produces blockage. We think its the other way around – that when things are blocked we have to try harder. But really, in songwriting as in improvising or playing a sport, what is required is a relaxed awareness. A runner doesn’t start a race by tensing up his whole body; a musician can’t improvise if he is trying too hard; and a Christian can’t be Christ to his world if he is striving like a constipated duck to “be like Jesus.”

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matt-conner-thumb.gif Matt Conner – “For me it’s about the God-given idea of Sabbath. Six days a week, I live under the world’s economy and then the seventh day, I live by another one. So whatever my tools are to work for those six days, I must refrain on the seventh and use other tools. If I seek to work on certain endeavors for those six days, then I must develop other outlets (creatively or whatnot) for that seventh.

This week I’m painting on my Sabbath – anything away from my laptop. I suck at painting, so it’s certainly not a hobby or even something I enjoy. But I’m trying something different.Whatever it is, it’s important to understand that knit into the very creation of man was man’s limit or inability to keep going. As hard as we try, we can’t avoid the natural rhythms for which we were created without “crashing,” “burning out” or “hitting the wall.” The Sabbath was meant for man. it was a gift. We forget these things – that we were made to stop, enjoy, and just be.Therein lies the success, in my opinion, for the ability to continually create. We talk about the need to find inspiration when we have writer’s block, which certainly comes, but I think the first thing to analyze is simply our manmade rhythms in light of the Creation rhythm.”

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curt-mcley-thumb.gif Curt McLey – “I have idea files for those days when I get stuck. A good portion of my blood is packrat blood. That means I have files of nearly everything I’ve ever written, without regard to quality, published or not. That includes my first and only attempt at a novel from fifth grade, every song or poem I’ve ever written, nearly every paper I wrote in school, and every record review. You get the idea. Often, I find something that was poorly executed. By reworking it, I might end up with something better. Sometimes reading the material is only an idea starter, the new path of which takes me in a completely different direction. In web surfing, if find a particularly moving or insightful article, blog post, or webzine article, written by somebody else I save it. I also thumb through my bookshelves. This can be dangerous, because if I don’t exercise caution, I end up reading instead of writing.I carry a notebook and journal wherever I go.

Quite often I have the seed of idea planted while I’m driving down the road. If it requires detailed writing, I pull over and hammer it out for a few minutes. If a word or two is enough to help me recall, I’ll drive and write at the same time. These aren’t recommendations; I’m just telling you what I do. No project is worth plowing into the rear end of the car in front of you.I keep a file of words. New words, old words, funny sounding words. Melange, mellifluous, sesquipedalian, and contradistinction are all words I’ve never used in anything I’ve written, but would like to. Oops. I just did. I knew that file would come in handy someday.

Ideas rarely present a problem for me. My greatest writing challenge comes in focusing and refining ideas. That, and knowing when and how to quit. That’s it.”

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jason-gray-thumb.gif Jason Gray – “I always turn first to alcohol and then, if needs be, to illicit drugs. Just kiddin’.

I just try to put myself in the path of things that will move me – certain kinds of movies, life experiences, books, music, etc.I know Frederick Buechner’s name gets mentioned here a lot, and his work and way of seeing the world consistently stirs my deeper waters and turns me on creatively. Movies have traditionally done it for me, too. I remember I wrote about three songs the week after I first saw “The Shawshank Redemption.” Good conversation with friends yields about as much fruit as anything else. Prayerful reflection and listening to my life are crucial as well.

The main thing is that I never know when or where lightning will strike, so I try to always have my creative antenae up and be prepared to receive whatever comes. I have an iTalk for my iPod that you plug in the bottom for taking voice notes. This is an invaluable tool for me. In a pinch I’ve been known to call home and leave an idea on my own voicemail for me to retrieve later, warning my wife not to listen to that particular message. These tools are useful, but honestly the best ideas are always the ones that won’t leave you alone, and so they are less a thing you try to capture than something that captures you. I don’t know how to find these ideas, or how to be found by them, but I suspect they have something to do with being alert and quiet and creating space in your life for them to live, move, and have their being.

Discipline is key, too. Ideally it’s good for me to spend a little time each day being creative. I rarely do… I’m too easily distracted by email, deadlines, my record label’s expectations for myspace activity, or reading celebrity news :-). I try to be disciplined with my input, too. I alternate reading novels and non-fiction, reading scripture in the morning and “extra-curricular” books before bed, movies that afflict me followed by those that entertain me, etc. Learning other creative disciplines (like painting if you’re a musician) I hear helps, too, though I don’t have a lot of experience with that myself.If none of these work, there is always the alcohol and illicit drugs as a last resort.

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russ-ramey-thumb.gif Russ Ramsey – “As a pastor I basically write a 6 page paper a week and I don’t really work ahead all that much. So every Monday I start with little more than my text and some small sense of direction. I’ve got a few old stand-bys I go to for the creative process.

1. If I’m stuck at the beginning trying to figure out those first few words, I will sometimes write the words “Dear Travis” or another friend’s name at the top so I’m no longer writing an essay, but a letter. You’d be surprised how little editing you need to go back and do when you’re finished, going at it this way.

2. If I’m stuck in the middle, I’ll write and then read out loud what I wrote, and tweak things verbally—especially if I’m tangling with a structural problem. Sometimes reading aloud untangles awkward phrasing and redundancy and things of that nature.

3. If I’m stuck with the finishing, I’ll usually employ the anti-kick start. I’ll put the thing away for a day or two (if I have the luxury of time). I call this the “marbles in a box” stage of writing. I’ve got a lot of ideas all written down, but they don’t hold together. Instead, they’re all just kind of rolling around together like marbles in a box. A few days away from focusing on those ideas helps me figure out why I want to say them, giving me points into which the marbles eventually (hopefully) roll.

4. I suppose I should add that necessity is the mother of invention. There’s nothing like a deadline to kick start the creative process. And there’s nothing like a deadline to put an end to a previous creative endeavor. I’m a big fan of the discipline of having to take a work as far as you can, but then having to put it aside because it’s time to move on to the next thing. It keeps me from being too perfectionistic and obsessive. I guess the jump-starter here is that having more than one project going at a time can a bring creative burst to the one you need to finish and keep you from getting wrapped around the axle of the thing you should really be moving on from.”

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andrew-peterson-thumb.gif Andrew Peterson – “I realized something about myself last week. Jamie and the kids went to Florida to visit family, and because of a few meetings and an impending book deadline I opted to stay home. At first I thought this was a brilliant idea. Surely I’d hole up in my office and write for days, leaving the house only to buy the necessary food and toiletry items needed to maintain my monk-like existence.

It didn’t happen. I missed my wife. I missed my kids. I missed the rhythm of piano lessons, home school, visits from friends, walks through the woods with my family, unloading the dishwasher, folding the clothes. And I found that sitting in this quiet house with nothing on the calendar but “WRITE THE NEXT CHAPTER” made doing that very thing nigh unto impossible.

What I learned was that I’m only really productive when I’m supposed to be doing something else. Knowing that Jamie’s here at home holding down the fort gives songwriting/book writing a sense of urgency, which is part of it, but there’s another not-so-noble part of it too, which has more to do with procrastination and avoiding chores. When I was in Bible college, that I was supposed to be taking notes on the life of Jeremiah made writing another verse to “The Chasing Song” seem wildly appealing. If I know I’m supposed to be mowing the yard, I’m suddenly moved to pick up my guitar and lock myself in the bathroom.

We’ve been going to the monthly Cane Ridge (the name for our little corner of Nashville) Community meetings, and after the potluck dinner a city councilman or local historian or high school principal will speak for an hour or so. After I wipe the pecan pie from the corners of my mouth and push back from the table to listen to the latest on the rezoning of some intersection or other, I’m seized with the need to break out my journal and write, say, the synopsis of book two of the Wingfeather Saga. I’m sad to say that I’ve also gotten a fair number of song ideas during sermons, and not because I was listening. It’s always good idea to have a pen and church bulletin handy, just in case. My wife knows that I don’t take notes so when she sees me scribbling during church she knows what’s up. But the people sitting near us must think I’m quite holy.”

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jonathan-rogers-thumb.gif Jonathan Rogers – “Because creativity is such a mystery, I find it important to be as workmanlike as possible in my approach to writing. I try to think like a plumber: a plumber gets up in the morning, goes to work, and starts plumbing. He has a list of tasks—really, a list of problems to solve—and he sets about checking things off the list. I realize the analogy breaks down pretty quickly; there are many, many ways in which writing isn’t like plumbing. But it helps me a lot to focus on those aspects of my work that are just like anybody else’s work. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block; lawyers don’t get lawyer’s block. They come to work in the morning, and they do their work. I know writer’s block is real, but I also know that in my case, a failure to write usually has more to do with sloth and/or self-indulgence than legitimate writer’s block.

When I’m writing a book, I constantly remind myself, “I don’t have to write a book today. Today I’ve only got to solve a few smallish writing problems (e.g., how to get a character from here to there in a credible manner, or how to convince the reader of the two following things).” Taking that matter-of-fact approach gives me a framework in which the more mysterious aspects of the creative process can assert themselves. And the amazing thing is that they always do. I’ve been at it long enough that I have learned to trust the process. I’ve learned not to panic when the right words and ideas don’t come. Beneath the level of conscious thought, there are things happening that we’ll never understand. What looks and feels like writer’s block is often just a part of the process; it’s as if your mind (or heart) is saying, “Don’t rush me…”

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evie-coates-thumb.gif Evie Coates – “I love lists. The items on my lists usually turn into paragraphs, however, which could then stand to lose the numbering systems/bullet points that normally come with lists, but this mode offers a sort of autonomy when I write, so that’s how I’ll tackle this one. (You probably thought that I was giving my actual answer to the question at hand like “I make lists when I can’t get it going creatively” but what I’m really doing is explaining how I will categorize my answers to this tough, although recently quite relevant query.) Bear in mind that I am the only one here talking about inspiration needed for visual art rather than the written sort of art…although I do that too.

1. Music: Lyrics create mini-movies that run through my mind and inspire colors and imagery. The very words sometimes even become part of my work (copyright infringement?). Melodies put me in certain moods, so if I’m aiming to paint an eerie, lonely moonlit sky (which is one of my favorite things to paint), I’ll go with Ry Cooder or Stevie Ray Vaughan (the instrumental stuff — the gravelly voices of these two greats are not conducive to pensive night scenes). I could name some of my other studio favorites but that would just result in yet another, interminably long list. (Maybe I’ll do that at some point, but not here, not now, for the love of…wait for it…Pete.)

2. Organizing: I must have order. Artists are not the messy-pants goof-offs that you may so often hear that we are. We are a strange breed, a breed who need spatial harmony. Nail bin squared up to the box of old silver forks, drill bits arranged in their little box from shortest to tallest, paints and brushes laid out neatly, clean water and paper towel for my colors, the compartmentalized tray of tack nails ordered smallest to largest and separated into black, silver or copper, wood selection lined up and ordered according to size and color, detached typewriter keys and postage stamps in their old metal film canister containers, oh, and tools! My power drill battery must be on the charger, my hammers lined up like heavy-headed soldiers, and my tin snips and needlenose pliers on their respective hangers on the wall.

3. Refreshment: I have to admit that a tasty beverage does help the process, or at least makes it more celebratory. Sometimes it’s a good strong cup (or five) of French press coffee, sometimes my favorite Swedish tea with cream. Other times it’s a cold microbrew (or five) or a pretty tumbler of red wine. They all have their seasons and their own appropriate times of day.

4. Draw a bird, a moon, or a tree: These are simply my favorites. I have pages upon pages of them in sketchbooks. They are my go-to, I know how to draw them, and nothing makes a creatively clogged soul feel better than being able to create something lovely and to do it effortlessly. It passes the time and provides more opportunity for asking myself, as I squeeze the tube of ultramarine blue, “So Evie,what are you going to do this time that is different than all of the other times?”

5. Take a walk: Clouds turning from peach to violet, budding trees, brightly colored houses with funky yard art, friendly cats, unfriendly dogs, the smell of just-cut grass with that distinctive onion-y tang, neighbors who wave at me; I don’t know if it’s just the mechanical motion of my feet moving or if it’s the general sense of well-being walking gives me that almost always yanks open the floodgates of ideas….I don’t care. All I care about is that it works (and gets my heart rate up). When I arrive back at my little blue door, I leave it open so that the good vibes/presence of the Good Lord/fresh air don’t get left outside. I like to give them plenty of opportunity to follow me in.

6. Tinker: When it comes down to it and I’m at my end, when I’m close to ripping my hairs out of my head one by one, I begin to pick up little bits and pieces of the junk that fills my studio. Remembering where and when I picked up each piece or recalling the story behind a certain ginger canister (the candied kind) or bright green bolt (thank you, John Deere) is often fun enough for me to get lost in. And getting lost is often the best thing for me to do when in this state of near-insanity. This step is especially helpful when there’s a deadline. “Deadline” should probably have it’s own point on this list because it sure does whip me in the rear to get moving. However, I hate that this has to be the case with me more often than not, so I will not afford it its own place on the official list. So there, Deadline. Take that.

7. Pray: Okay, now I look like an impious mess of a girl because I put this last rather than first, but the whole truth is that I am in a constant state of “Lord, I’m open, hit me” while I’m in the creative swing. It’s just dangerous not to be. Stupid, obviously uninspired things happen when I’m not. If I did not have any other assurance that God is real in my life, the moments where art works have come together on my workshop table flawlessly and seemingly without anything I have done — these moments would be the telling of his goodness, and his being my Creator Father.

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pete-peterson-thumb.gif Pete Peterson – “I’ve found lately that a change of location does wonders. One of the hardest things on earth for me to do is to sit down at my computer at home, surrounded by my books, movies, television, video games, internet access, and a soft, nap-ready couch and try to force myself to write. These days I tend to throw my laptop in my backpack, jump on my bike and head to the nearest coffee shop or quiet restaurant to try to get some real work done.

It works for me and the only reason I can come up with is that I’m the sort of person that likes to look like I know what I’m doing. I know that sounds ridiculous, but if I’m left to my own devices with no one else around I’m far more likely to sit and stare at Conan O’Brien reruns than I am to actually create anything of my own. But if you put me in an environment with other people around, watching me, suddenly I don’t want to look like a bum. I try to look busy. I use that lunacy to trick myself into being actually busy. So I’m afraid that oftentimes what gets me started is something as shallow as appearance. Once I get rolling though, I can usually pump out a good chunk of work.

Another thing that really helps me is having a deadline. I’m one heck of a procrastinator and someone giving me a solid deadline is great motivation. I think it probably goes right back to the whole ‘looking busy’ bit of not wanting people to think I’m a bum.

One more thing. There is a lot to be said for pure, boring, discipline. When I wrote my first book for instance I gave myself a goal of a thousand words a day, and for the most part I held myself to it. Now a thousand words a day isn’t a lot but there are times when even getting to a hundred is excruciating. What I found, and what really surprised me then and surprises me still, is that the writing I do when I least want to, the writing that is the hardest to churn out, somehow, is often the best. When I go back and edit something that was very easy for me to write, I tend to find that most of it gets cut. It’s bad. But the stuff that I really have to struggle with will many times be tight, succinct, and very well put together. That makes perfect sense when you think about it, but it sure sucks in practice.

So there you have it. Do I look busy?”

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he’s the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


17 Comments

  1. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Oh, man. That picture is off the charts hilarous. At first, I thought it would even be funnier if his eyes were glowing and his hair was standing on end. But the more I look at the poor guy, I realize how perfectly his expression captures the subdued desperation of a man facing the depths of writer’s block; even an electric charge isn’t enough to move him.

  2. Golf » On the Table: Jumpstarting the Process

    […] rabbitroom.com wrote an interesting post today on On the Table: Jumpstarting the ProcessHere’s a quick excerptI have confidence in our illustrious contributors though and am sure it’ll be a piece of–w ait for it–cake. Golf clap please. Thank you, thank you…. […]

  3. becky

    I agree that the Pie discussion is a hard act to follow, but this is a great topic, too. I’m a graphic designer, doing book covers for a short run printer. We mostly work with authors who are self-publishing, so we get a wide range of topics and quality. It’s not very earth shattering or cutting edge, but the atmosphere is more laid back than most designers’ jobs and the variety of topics keeps me from getting bored. If I’m not inspired by the job I’m working on in the morning, I’ll be working on something different in the afternoon. It’s actually a perfect job for me.

    I find it really interesting that there are some parts of the creative process that seem to be common to most of us, but other parts that are so different. Like most of you, if something is just not working for me I need to walk away from it and come back to it later. Thinking about something else for a while lets me look at the problem with fresh eyes, and I usually can think of a solution pretty quickly after that. I also have to have a deadline of some kind. Procrastination is constantly plaguing me. Without a deadline I would never get anything accomplished. Like Evie, I always have music going and refreshments near at hand. I tend to snack when I am working, which is not particularly a good thing. My sister the teacher says it is because I am a global learner, and I take her word for it.

    Unlike Evie, I do not work in an orderly environment. I’m afraid that I may be one of those “messy-pants goof-offs” she mentions. My cubicle is kind of a disaster area. I do need to create order on the computer screen or on the paper I’m drawing on, but I tend to be oblivious to anything outside of the two-dimensional world I’m in at the time. And unlike most of you, I need to have separation between work and non-work activities. I tried freelancing once, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that it was not for me. I need to leave at the end of the day, and not think about it again until morning. Work is work, and home is home, and never the twain shall meet. That’s my motto.

    One of the things I have found is that my best work is either what comes very easily to me, or what is the most frustrating and difficult, not the stuff in between. It is impossible to explain to someone else that experience of something that almost seems to come from outside of you. And those things are almost always my best. But sometimes with the problem jobs, the client who is difficult to please or the design that just won’t come together, I am pushed outside of the ruts I fall into and I explore new ideas. So both extremes are good for me, creatively speaking.

    Matt, I love that you connected this topic to the Sabbath. I have never thought of the Sabbath as a creativity booster, but it makes perfect sense as creation was the work from which God was resting. Good thoughts.

  4. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Let me recommend a book that has really kicked me in the pants and jumpstarted me. Now, like AP’s caveat in his recent post, I need to say that Steven Pressfield uses cussing sprinkled throughout the book. Also, he has some thoughts in there on “religious fundamentalists” that are partly on and partly off base. If you are offended by these things then disregard this post. Or, if you already are well-organized with your day and work consistently and are achieving everything you are meant to achieve, you can bypass the rest of what I write here.

    But if not – wow. Pressfield is the guy who wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance and several other novels, and his take on the writing/creative/artistic life is incredibly inspiring. So inspiring that I can say that his book has changed the outer form of my life. Because of that single book I’m now going to bed when my kids do, getting up early, reading, etc, exercising, and then when my kids leave for school at 8:30 my butt sits in this chair and I start playing banjo. An hour and a half later I switch to guitar. Then lunch. Then more banjo. More guitar, and then whatever else I need to get done (editing audio, etc). The work ethic that book has reestablished in me is life-changing – life-ordering. At 5pm I go upstairs and hang out with my kids – fully present because I’ve done my work, and I can wash my hands of it for the day, rather than the vague uneasiness and cloudy boundaries I’d held previously.

    I don’t want to explain the book – it unfolds perfectly as it is. It’s an easy read, entertaining, yet very direct and to-the-point. If you struggle with disorganization in your schedule (esp due to being self-employed and working at home) then this book is for you. It’s not a “How-To-Be-Organized-In-Ten-Easy-Steps” book. It’s not a self-help book. It’s a kick in the pants that’ll make you think clearly about time and the importance of getting on with your creative (or other) work.

  5. lyndsay

    during the month of novemeber (aka, national novel writing month – http://www.nanowrimo.com) i chose to [attempt to] write 50,000 words in 30 days. ap nailed it for me – when i carved out entire days to dedicate to my writing, i added maybe 500 words. but on the days where i was pressed and only had an hour between work and church and meetings, i would produce 3000 word conversations from nowhere! it always amazed me.

    matt – i really like your idea about using different tools on the sabbath. i think i’m going to try that!

  6. becky

    There’s a question running around in my head now. What is God’s creative process? Does he get writer’s block?

    Ron, did I miss the name of the book you are recommending?

  7. Aaron Roughton

    Creativity blocks have always been self imposed for me. I live on a few excuses: “I’m an electrical engineer…creativity requires the other side of my brain to function.” Or, “I have a dayjob and 3 kids…creativity requires time.” But the worst excuse is, “I’m afraid if to settle for this (song, verse, tune, lyric) because I’m not sure it’s the best.” I mean, you could always write SOMETHING down, or throw some paint down SOMEWHERE, or put SOME chord there.

    I read (or heard) a great piece by John Ortberg about this. (Please don’t ruin this for me if it’s just an urban legend.) He said there was a college level pottery class that was unknowingly used as the subject of a psych experiment. The instructor divided the class in half. The first half, we’ll call the quantity group, was to be graded on the sheer quantity of art produced during the semester. Produce 50 pieces, get a C, 60 pieces get a B, and so on. The second half, the quality group, was to take the entire semester and create one piece of pottery that would be evaluated for their entire grade. At the end of the semester, the pottery was evaluated by some qualified judges. (I know, I know…art…judge…qualified…new rabbit trail) All of the highest quality pottery came from the quantity group…Not the quality group. They were free to learn from their mistakes and grow as potters and artists without a fear of failure. This was a huge lesson for me. Even if I just finished a song so it would be finished and then fixed it later, it still made a ginormous difference in the way I view creativity during the times when ideas aren’t just pouring forth.

  8. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    In response to what AP wrote – that’s exactly how I work, too! There’s this other thing that comes into play that is similar to the way I pray. I find it incredibly difficult to pray in a quiet room. I have been known to lay down face on the floor with my eyes closed to spend time in focused prayer. Usually, anything happens BUT prayer. I seem almost eager to be distracted by the smallest thing and usually get caught up in the “endless chatter of human thought”. However, a nice walk down my street seems to yield more satisfying prayer times for me. To have my senses occupied with the sounds and sights of life in our little town frees a part of my heart and mind to be more receptive and focused on the Lord.

    I worked several years in a factory and it seems I was the most prolific in those three years. Doing the same mind-numbing task on the assembly line for hours and having something to occupy my hands seemed to make for fertile soil to nurture and receive little seed-songs. Like Curt, driving has produced a lot of songs as well.

    PS – Just to be clear, I was totally joking about the alcohol and illicit drugs comment 🙂

  9. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Sorry, Jason. The smiley you had after the drugs comment threw off all the formatting. It had to go and I thought it’d be amusing if your Mom read it and called the 1-800-MY-KIDS-ON-CRACK Hotline.

  10. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Maybe an upcoming “On the table” feature could be “What is the one thing you could post on the web that would make your parents call a hotline on your behalf?”

  11. Jeannette

    Thank you guys for posting these! I do believe it was God’s timing for me, at least. As a non-traditional (old) college student majoring in biology, I’m facing the first piece of writing I’ve had to put together in approximately 6 years, and it’s a 20 pager. Not creative by any means, but still writing. I’ve been having serious trouble getting it done. So, with all your advice, I feel much more ready to tackle my senior thesis. Now, the next question is: Will I actually tackle said senior thesis? That remains to be seen. Thank you all!

  12. Curan

    That Blessed Be song by Jason Gray really makes my day. I never heard a christian song that starts off with the word Losers.

    Its a very honest song and everytime i listen to it, i get inspired…

  13. Joshua Keel

    Thanks for sharing, friends. I find myself working on a song idea, maybe writing a verse or two, then leaving things for a day or so. Sometimes I come back to it and hate my melody and lyrics. I’ve also gotten back to it and finished everything up and been very happy. It seems like songs have a sort of shine that wears off quickly for me, though. I don’t think I’m a very good judge of my own work, except to criticize it mercilessly or to love it without reason.

  14. Leigh McLeroy

    I face this almost every day, since even when I’m not working on a book, I usually have a more “routine” writing task with a looming deadline.

    Three things almost always work to get me going…well, maybe four, but if you don’t have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, the fourth one might not be as much fun.

    One: I write the absolutely worst first sentence I can construct. By the time I’m done I’m typically laughing, or sick. But either way, I’m ready to move on. Madeleine L’Engle once taught in a writing workshop – “It’s alright to began badly, just so you begin.” (Maybe the fact that she said it on the lawn of Magdalen College at Oxford on a beautiful summer day made it more memorable, but it stuck, just the same.)

    Two: I take out a spiral notebook, find a fat Sharpie, and put it in my LEFT hand. (I am right-handed.) Then I ask myself questions about what I want to say, and answer them in longhand. Somehow struggling to use my left hand to express myself short circuits the “I can’ts” in my brain long enough to generate something I didn’t expect. This is always a good thing.

    Third: I move. Motion helps, for some reason. I walk, or push a grocery cart up and down the aisles of Kroger or Target (actually putting in a few needed items so as not to look deranged)or hit the treadmill or elliptical machine (one L or two?)or my neighborhood streets. And I tell myself I WON’T think about the book when I walk. (I always do. I can’t help myself.)

    Four: This is where the Kitchen Aid helps. I make a chocolate chip cookie (one) so big I have to bake it in a cast iron skillet. Then I bake it and give it away. Then I’ve done two things: finished something I started and gotten rid of it. A procrastination,granted, but one that feels really good.

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